REINVENTDEMOCRACY.NET

Democracy at the Crossroads

Introduction

Of five major threats to the planet's sustainability and humanity's survivability, three derive from governance failures:

  1. Extreme climate disruption.
  2. Global spread of violent asymmetric conflicts that are trapping innocent civilians in their crossfire.
  3. The tendency of governments, heads of state, political parties, politicians and special interests to create problems, crises and conflicts at domestic and transnational levels -- which they typically fail to resolve and often escalate in the hope of gaining political influence.
  4. The lack of effective popularly controlled consensus-building and conflict resolution mechanisms.
  5. The inability of ordinary people to control their governments because of "democratic deficits" preventing voters from controlling electoral and legislative processes that determine who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are passed.

Democracy is at a crossroads due to numerous "democratic deficits" and obstacles preventing comprehensive reform of governing institutions that do not serve the needs of the people.

Key democratic institutions and processes in countries around the world have been deliberately re-engineered to prevent the people from governing -- and from changing the institutions and processes themselves. These crippled democracies and their elections are democratic in form but not substance.

Primary causes of the failure of democratic self-governance by the people are political parties and lawmakers that become more attentive to their own preferences and those of special interests than the priorities of their constituents. They switch their allegiance from their constituents to special interests because of their dependence on them to finance their election campaigns.

An equally serious problem is the fact that the constituencies of elected representatives have grown too large for small numbers of lawmakers to represent. Elected representatives typically know very little about what their constituents need and want across the board. Nor do they provide their constituents systematic mechanisms for expressing their priorities and determining which candidates run for office.

Even if parties and lawmakers did possess this information, they do not have consensus-building and conflict resolution mechanisms for reconciling the diverse views of millions of constituents regarding what laws should and should not be passed. Their undemocratic decision-making technologies are outdated, and their decisions are often unworkable and fail to serve the public interest.

Even if democracies were not failing for many other reasons, the lack of consensus-building and conflict resolution mechanisms alone is sufficient reason to put them at the crossroads of abysmal failure.

Far too many governing institutions and lawmakers are unable to make critical legislative decisions because they are unable to resolve disagreements and conflicts among their constituents, opposing parties and various special interests. A major reason for this failure is that political parties, party-backed lawmakers and special interests back both are more likely to spawn and even contrive ideological and partisan conflicts than resolve them.

As a result, elected officials virtually everywhere are failing to devise urgent legislation that meets the needs of their constituents and resolves life-threatening problems, crises and conflicts confronting them. To take the two extreme case examples cited above, the failure of governing institutions worldwide to adopt effective measures to stop extreme climate disruption and prevent the spread of violent conflicts around the world threaten not only their constituents' lives but the planet's sustainability and humanity's survivability.

Decline of Democracies Worldwide

As a result of the foregoing factors, steady declines in the state of democracies around the world have been well documented in reports such as the 2015 Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit:

In 2015 alone, 72 countries became less democratic, as described in The Guardian View on Democracy.

Systemic Voter Disempowerment: The U.S. Example

Most governments claim they are democracies because they hold popular elections. A large majority of their citizens who cast votes also think their governments are democracies.

But there are other criteria besides elections for determining whether or not a country has a functioning democracy -- or a failing democracy.

A major criterion, possibly the most important one, is to ask whether voters actually control elections and their legislative consequences:

In the U.S., parties and election authorities do place significant limitations on voters' ability to join forces to run their own candidates independently of existing political parties. These limitations restrict voters' choices primarily to choosing among candidates and parties already on the ballot running on agendas with legislative priorities over which voters have virtually no control.

However, a country might still have a functioning democracy if voters can give clear, written legislative mandates to candidates and elected officials and hold them accountable for implementing them, even if voters face serious hurdles with respect to running their own candidates without intermediaries.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Voters have traditionally had no mechanism by which they can connect to each other to set common agendas. Political parties have never provided voters independent mechanisms for systematically defining their priorities across the board and using them as party platforms, agendas and legislative mandates by which they can hold lawmakers accountable for implementing their priorities.

As a result of these limitations, in far too many countries, there is a serious electoral and legislative disconnect between voters and lawmakers. It appears to be caused primarily by the unwillingness of candidates, lawmakers and political parties to let their supporters curb lawmakers' prerogatives to pass the legislation they prefer, or the legislation that their special interest campaign contributors prefer.

Given these limitations, it can be argued that electorates in many countries with democratic forms of government exercise a largely symbolic role in elections. These symbolic elections are designed to make it appear to the public and to voters that their vote matters, even though the real purpose of elections is quite different.

Instead of empowering voters, these elections officially legitimize the transfer of voters' sovereignty to lawmakers over whom voters have little influence. Once elected, these lawmakers pass and reject laws on the basis of their own priorities and those of their special interest supporters and campaign contributors, rather than their constituents' priorities and the public interest as a whole. Such governments can not be considered fully functioning, authentic democracies.

U.S. elections are a case in point of the degradation of elections into largely symbolic rituals and media events. They result in the election of virtually autonomous lawmakers who are unaccountable to the U.S. electorate.

They will remain unaccountable because their next run for election will take place within the framework of the same type of symbolic elections and media events through which they previously obtained office. Voters will be saddled yet again with elected representatives who will pass and reject laws in their name -- even though voters exert very little influence over these decisions.

This conclusion is supported by research showing that in America "average citizens have little impact on public policy", as exemplified in the work of the following:

The consequence, according to numerous public opinion polls, is that a majority of Americans have lost faith in government, think the country is headed in the wrong direction, believe their representatives do not care what they think, and would like to see most members of Congress replaced.

Yet the majority of Congressional representatives get re-elected repeatedly -- even for decades and, for many, their entire lifetimes -- due to a multiplicity of factors designed to skew election results in their favor.

Instituting a fully functioning, authentic democracy in America through traditional reform mechanisms is unlikely to occur due to the multiplicity of interacting systemic impediments designed to thwart the exercise of popular sovereignty.

These involve numerous federal, state and local laws; court decisions, regulations, rules and practices that work together to reinforce voter disempowerment and prevent the country from reaping the benefits of a functioning democracy. Efforts to overcome them will be resisted by parties, lawmakers and special interests that use them to acquire virtually unfettered political influence. This is especially the case with politicians who use them to get elected and stay in office despite widespread public opposition to their performance and the legislation they enact or refuse to enact.

Below is a list of specific impediments to the exercise of popular sovereignty in the U.S. which show that efforts to reverse them using traditional reform levers, such as overturning existing laws and passing constitutional amendments, hold little promise of success.

The reason is that "systemic voter disempowerment" comprises so many interacting obstacles with diverse, long standing, interacting roots that can only be eradicated through a "system-changing technology" that empowers voters to circumvent the obstructions without rooting out each of their causes separately.

This technology will be made accessible through the Global Social Network for Voters that Re-Invent Democracy International is building around the patented Interactive Voter Choice System, which will empower electorates in the U.S. and around the world to circumvent such obstacles, in many cases in just a few election cycles.

  1. Campaign finance laws

    U.S. campaign finance laws enable non-voting individuals and organizations residing outside an election district to make unlimited campaign contributions to elect candidates of their choice running in the district. These contributions tend to be far larger than those made by candidates' constituents, and to skew election results in favor of candidates financed with external funds.

    These laws legitimize what critics view as legalized bribery. They have contributed to the "corruption" of the American democracy, according to increasing numbers of scholars and researchers. An example is Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout's recent book, Corruption in America (2014), Harvard University Press.

    Similar studies show that lawmakers tend to pass legislation demanded by their special interest campaign contributors rather than their constituents, or the public interest. An example is the failure of Congress to pass and fund legislation to maintain the U.S. infrastructure of roads, bridges, tunnels, etc., much of which has crumbled and now requires $4 trillion to be rebuilt.

  2. Re-drawing of election district boundaries ("Gerrymandering")

    It is a long-standing common practice for the political party that controls a state legislature to pass laws changing election district boundaries to include voters likely to vote for the party's candidates and exclude voters likely to vote against party candidates.

    As a result, candidates and incumbent major party candidates running for Congress get elected and re-elected repeatedly because potential opponents cannot obtain the voting strength they need to out-vote party voters concentrated in "gerrymandered" districts whose boundaries have been unfairly manipulated to skew election results in favor of the party that controls the legislature.

    Another result is that many election districts have been so severely gerrymandered by the party controlling the state legislature that party candidates run unopposed because they cannot be defeated, thereby depriving voters of any choice at all.

  3. Federal and state "winner take all" election laws

    "Winner take all" laws, which are among the most potent disempowerment factors, enable candidates with the most votes to win elections even though they receive votes from only a minority of voters and then proceed to pass laws without majority support.

    By enabling the winning candidate to cast votes on behalf of the entire electorate even though they represent a minority of the electorate, they also disenfranchise the voters who voted against the winning candidate, leaving them no voice in legislative decisions. Lawmakers representing only a minority of eligible voters are nevertheless authorized to spend the tax revenues collected from all U.S. taxpayers on legislation and programs that may only benefit a minority of voters, or may not benefit any voters or taxpayers at all when laws are passed that uniquely benefit special interests that contribute to lawmakers' election campaigns.

    The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives pass laws in the name of the American people as a whole even though the party that controls each body represents a minority of eligible voters and may have only won the votes of 25% - 30% of the electorate. In the 2014 Congressional election, only 1 out of 3 eligible voters turned out to vote.

    Although Congressional representatives frequently claim that the legislative priorities they espouse and enact into law represent the will of the people, they rarely do. Unfortunately, American voters -- who have no way of setting and publicizing written legislative agendas and using them as legislative mandates -- are unable to refute these claims.

  4. The U.S. Senate's filibuster rule.

    A single member of the Senate can and often does block legislative action by using the "filibuster" rule to halt proceedings -- unless a super-majority of the members votes to override the filibuster, a rare occurrence.

    As a result, any Senator representing a fraction of the American people -- and even a fraction of 1% -- can use the threat of a filibuster to reject any legislative bill or negotiate a change of any aspect of a proposed legislative action and thereby determine what legislation is enacted or rejected in the name of the American people as a whole -- and at their expense.

  5. Vote suppression laws

    Politically partisan state election officials have the authority to determine who is and who is not eligible to vote. Unfortunately, there are few if any ways to verify the accuracy of their determinations.

    State authorities seeking to suppress votes are increasingly requesting voters to obtain official identification documents (IDs) that many voters do not have and cannot easily obtain or afford.

    Another mechanism for suppressing the vote is the use of computer systems that are secretly programmed to alter official tallies and records of votes cast.

    This electronic rigging of vote tallies and records can be hidden so well by programmers that the total number of votes that are not accurately tallied or recorded can not be determined.

    Election experts, however, estimate that the numbers of suppressed votes appear to have become high enough to skew key election results in pivotal states.

  6. Lack of Voter Agenda Setting Mechanisms

    Even though the technology exists to do so, voters have never been provided any systematic way of setting their own legislative agendas across the board, or voting on the agendas and platforms of candidates and political parties. Candidates and parties typically prefer to formulate their agendas and platforms by themselves according to their own priorities and party rules with scant input from their supporters.

    As a result, voters play a passive role in choosing among parties and candidates who are running on platforms and agendas over which voters have virtually no control. Even though the large majority of elections are "democratic" in form rather than substance, elected representatives -- especially members of Congress -- do not hesitate to claim that they know what are the priorities of the "American people" and enact them.

    They make these claims even though most are unfamiliar with their constituents' priorities across the board, typically have only a superficial understanding of a small proportion of them, and often ignore their constituent's needs and wants when they pass legislation demanded by their special interest campaign contributors.

Consequences of Systemic Voter Disempowerment

When the preceding disempowering impediments to the exercise of popular sovereignty in electoral and legislative processes are viewed as a whole, they constitute "systemic voter disempowerment" comprised of a host of interacting factors.

In the U.S., one of the most dysfunctional and far reaching results of this disempowerment is the election at the federal level of 535 members of Congress who make legislative decisions in the name of more than 300 million Americans even though their only connection to them is through symbolic elections. These elections legitimize their authority to make decisions on behalf of the entire electorate even though voters are unable to decide who runs for office, who gets elected and what laws are to be enacted.

Voters are legally and structurally prevented from joining forces to nominate and elect their own candidates independently of existing political parties around collectively set agendas. They are denied any systematic mechanism for influencing the agendas and election platforms of parties and self-nominating candidates who have placed themselves on the ballot. As a result, voters cannot control or exert a meaningful influence over the legislative decisions of their elected representatives because voters are unable to hold them accountable at the polls for their legislative actions.

Given the systemic voter disempowerment that has led to these outcomes, combined with the disparities between voters' and lawmakers' priorities, voters' lack of influence over legislation, and lawmakers' passage of legislation without majority support, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. is governed by a failing democracy, if not a failed democracy. The sheer complexity and interdependence of the disempowering factors, coupled with the overwhelming obstacles to changing them through traditional channels of reform, have created an impass that can only be circumvented technologically.

Unfortunately, past is prologue. Such democracies need to be re-invented quickly so their citizens cand devise solutions to climate disruption and armed conflicts before they irreversibly devastate the planet.

Waiting for new elections to elect new lawmakers to change the status quo has become impossible because of past crippling of electoral and legislative processes and because special interests, politicians and lawmakers keep finding new ways to cripple democratic processes. Recent vote suppression in the U.S. is a case in point.

In the U.S., they have engineered such an extensive patchwork of court decisions, redistricting laws, and election laws at federal, state and local levels -- all designed to disempower voters -- that it would take years, if not decades, to turn them around.

The torturous 2016 U.S. presidential election demonstrates the consequences of deliberately engineered voter disempowerment. Political parties, politicians and special interests have so corrupted electoral institutions and processes that the two major U.S. political parties -- which control the outcome of elections -- ran presidential candidates disliked by a majority of Americans who would have preferred not to have to vote for either of them! They forced voters to elect a president whose legislative priorities diverge from those of a majority of the American people -- whose votes gave him the power to implement his divergent priorities. (The American Public Against Trump, by Alan S. Blinder, former member of the US Federal Reserve Board and Professor of Economics at Princeton University.)

How did such a dilemma get created? Primarily because the two major parties have modified and manipulated election laws and court decisions in order to prevent third parties from growing large enough to beat major party candidates. As a result, only self-nominated major party candidates who are financed by special interests have any chance of winning enough presidential primaries to get on general election ballots and win. Only major party candidates can obtain sufficient financial resources from special interests to force themselves far enough into the mass media limelight -- usually via inflammatory rhetoric and vitriol -- to gain the visibility and the momentum they need to win general elections.

In this regard, it is noteworthy that in the U.S., voter turnout is usually only about half of the people who are eligible to vote. And the half who vote typically divide their votes fairly evenly between the two major party candidates running. (This is especially true in states in which the election district boundaries have been "gerrymandered" by one or the other major party to place winning majorities of voters in the districts they want to win.) So the winner gets elected with only about a quarter of the votes that could be cast. And then those elected by a minority of eligible voters proceed to pass laws that are binding on everyone!

Declining Support for Popular Sovereignty in Declining Democracies?

Critics of failing and failed democracies, who do not recognize the deliberate systemic disempowerment of voters that has been taking place for decades systemic, blame voters for this sorry state of affairs. Ironically, they think the solution is to further reduce voters' influence!

They argue that democratic forms of government were never really meant to enable people to control their governments -- but only to make them think they are governing themselves, while political elites and special interests actually run the show.

In contrast, students of political and constitutional history know that authentic democracy must be controlled by the people. The only antidote to various forms and degrees of authoritarian rule, whether by ancient monarchs, despots or modern day political parties and self-serving politicians, is government "by and for the people".

But these lessons have yet to be learned by these critics, even those who use "tongue in check" to get their points across. For example, in a recent article in The Guardian entitled, "Lies, fearmongering and fables: that's our democracy", a well-known British journalist questions basic popularly held assumptions regarding democratic forms of government when he asks:

What if democracy doesn't work? What if it never has and never will? What if government of the people, by the people, for the people is a fairytale? What if it functions as a justifying myth for liars and charlatans?"

He cites the findings of recent research that quite erroneously conclude:

In reality . . . most people possess almost no useful information about policies and their implications, have little desire to improve their state of knowledge, and have a deep aversion to political disagreement.
...
"the 'folk theory of democracy' -- the idea that citizens make coherent and intelligible policy decisions, on which governments then act -- bears no relationship to how it really works. Or could ever work."

It would appear that he is unfamiliar with the failed legislative policies of many elected governments that have so contravened the fundamental needs of their constituents as to create widespread downward mobility and impoverishment of large segments of their populations that were previously upward bound and financially secure.

In a similarly pessimistic vein, another recent critic also puts the blame on voters themselves and objects to the basic premise of democracy that ordinary people can and should decide how a nation is governed. He even takes the extreme position of asserting in the title of an article he authored that "The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge".

The argument that further circumvention of the governing rights of already disempowered voters would improve the performance of crippled democracies is difficult to fathom. Does it make any sense to argue that governments that are already unresponsive to the people they are supposed to serve would be more responsive to them if the people they are supposed to serve have even less power over them than they now have?

People can and should govern themselves. They can learn whatever they may have been prevented from learning in the past -- due to the passive political roles relegated to them -- about how to formulate knowledgeable legislative proposals. The fact that many voters have had no reason or opportunity to develop expertise in this area is not their fault, but the fault of those who have rigged the system to short circuit their exercise of their sovereignty. Moreover, it is certainly not voters' fault that they cannot presently unrig the system, since the people who rigged it control the governments whose democratic processes they have crippled!

Global Spread of Political Unrest and Armed Conflicts

The proliferation of failed and failing democracies is accompanied by pervasive wealth and income inequalities, the spread of armed conflicts around the world, and political unrest.

Voters worldwide are expressing growing opposition to their elected governments in upset elections, such as Brexit and the 2016 U.S. president elections, as well as in increasing protests, confrontations and extra-legal actions.

Pervasive voter discontent is documented in the following:

Undemocratic inegalitarian societies are spurring domestic and transnational opposition and resistance movements -- and the use of force to quel them. When indigenous opposition and resistance interact and combine with the geopolitical ambitions of aggressive nation-states, the result is multi-national conflagrations such as those occurring in the Middle East and North Africa can occur.

These conflagrations are now trapping innocent civilians around the world in the crossfires of globally spreading asymmetrical conflicts between nation-states and paramilitary groups confronting each other. A devastating consequence is millions of refugees fleeing conflicted regions and seeking asylum in Western countries -- bringing with them a host of highly combustible issues.

(Note: The long-term consequences and costs of the adversity faced by populations trapped in such conflicts are inestimable. The large majority of these afflicted populations are located in the developing world where poverty is widespread. Overall, of the estimated 2 - 3 billion people living in poverty, a significant portion live in war-torn regions where the most vulnerable -- women and children -- experience the long-lasting effects of serial traumas and post-traumatic stress disorders -- especially child soldiers trained to kill at an early age and young suicide bombers. The destabilizing daily internal and cross-border movements of countless numbers of people displaced not only by these conflicts, but also by extreme weather, are unlikely to cease in the foreseeable future.)

The contemporary "democracy deficits" that are sparking conflicts within and among countries are creating contagious political instability and electoral backlashes. For example, popular opposition is on the rise against parties and lawmakers that support financial and economic globalization -- and trade policies that lead to job loss, stagnant wages, widespread unemployment, and downward social mobility. These backlashes often go hand-in-hand with unexpected electoral outcomes, such as the UK's Brexit vote, the rise of right wing movements, and insurgent electoral candidacies challenging establishment parties, candidates and incumbents.

The Technological Re-Invention of Democracy

The Global Social Network for Voters that Re-Invent Democracy International is building around its Interactive Voter Choice System (U.S. Patent No. 7,953,628) technology is quite possibly the only solution to the myriad causes of failed and failing democracies and the cascade of dire threats and consequences they are engendering. The network and system empowers voters to institute democratically-controlled elections and legislation in the near-term, directed from the "bottom up" by the people that governments must serve, rather than from the "top down" by democratically unaccountable political parties and politicians.

They empower voters to gain control of elections and legislation by building voter-controlled online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions (BPCs) around common legislative agendas to elect lawmakers of their choice.

BPCs blend direct democracy with representative democracy by formulating laws of their own and using their BPCs and BPC legislative agendas to direct the legislative actions of the representatives they elect, including using the network's voting utility to vote on referenda, initiatives, petitions and recall votes. They can publish the results and use them to pressure their representatives to adhere to their agendas.

Significantly, they will be able to join forces online to collectively mandate the enactment of virtually unlimited numbers of laws that are logically and coherently interconnected -- unlike typical legislative enactments that consist of sequences of disconnected laws that often contradict each other.

The voter-controlled, online political organizations they create to bring about this paradigm shift in how legislative priorities are set differ from traditional blocs, parties and coalitions that voters do not control because they interconnect voters across ideological and partisan lines to forge collective consensus around common transpartisan legislative agendas.

Unlike traditional BPCs that divide voters ideologically, the members of these new organizations will be motivated to unite voters around transpartisan agendas in order to create transpartisan electoral bases large enough to elect representatives of their choice to enact their agendas. BPCs that fail to reach out to voters across the ideological and political spectrum are unlikely to grow large enough to win elections.

BPCS will develop unprecedented "collective intelligence" and collective decision-making capabilities by bringing large numbers of well-informed voters into all stages of legislative processes, to supplement and surpass the small numbers of often ill-informed, biased and conflict-producing legislators who make decisions for entire electorates.

They will be the engines for the development of the ever increasing capacity of the world's electorates as a whole to interconnect to each other to collectively devise solutions to present and future threats to the planet's sustainability and humanity's survivability -- and elect representatives to enact them.

In addition to these key attributes, BPCs have the following capabilities:

Note: Electoral candidates, incumbent lawmakers and traditional BPCs that wish to build a winning base of popular electoral support, in which they collaborate with present and future supporters to set and enact common legislative agendas, can also use the Company's Global Social Network for Voters. They can do so individually and independently, or collaborate through their own political organizations with voter-controlled BPCs through coalitions they conjointly agree to create and manage.

Similarly, civil society organizations, issue groups, associations, and unions, for example, can also use the network to build BPCs independently and/or collaboratively. By building large transpartisan electoral bases, all democracy stakeholders using the network can elect representatives of their choice without campaign financing by special interests that later dictate representatives' legislative actions after they are elected. Lawmakers will be able to concentrate on legislating rather than fund-raising, and on implementing the agendas of their constituents rather than the agendas of special interests.

Conclusion

Given the lack of internal levers by which voters can reform failed and failing democracies, Re-Invent Democracy International's Global Social Network for Voters and the Interactive Voter Choice System provide a universal, near-term technological solution by which voters can re-invent democratically unaccountable governments.

This 21st century web-based technology, which enables voters to blend direct and representative forms of democracy, can be implemented by citizens and voters autonomously online without changing existing laws.

The technology will enable large numbers of well-informed, consensus-building citizens to replace the small numbers of conflict-producing, politically polarizing political parties and lawmakers that typically ignore voters' priorities in favor of their own preferences -- and those of special interests that finance their electoral campaigns.

It is the next step in the technological evolution of government "by and for the people". Voluminous research has demonstrated unequivocally that large numbers of people make better decisions than small numbers of people, especially in large complex systems such as governments.

The Global Social Network for Voters -- the world's first large scale consensus building and conflict resolution platform -- empowers virtually unlimited numbers of citizens to make better decisions and formulate better laws than the small numbers of lawmakers who far too often make ill-conceived decisions and undemocratically enact laws voters oppose.